AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hallie Horton looked every bit the happy 6-year-old as she made her way around Augusta National Golf Club. Wearing a freshly purchased Masters hat, and holding a newly acquired Augusta National teddy bear, she had been out at the third hole watching the action along with her 8-year-old brother, Brooks, and her mother and father, Ashlee and Kevin.
“I like seeing them hit the ball far and trying their best,” she said, her smile made all the more angelic thanks to two missing front teeth.
The Hortons live in nearby Evans, Ga., and Hallie’s golf at this point in time involves hitting a few plastic clubs in the yard. Someday in the next few months, she might join her mom and dad in going to play at the local course for the first time. Or maybe she won’t. Ashlee and Kevin are waiting to see if golf is in Hallie’s future.
But Saturday provided them a chance to show their daughter what the future could look like.
“We tried to explain to them in a way they’d understand that they’re watching a historic event,” Ashlee said. “It helps establish the game of golf in a different light. It puts a great goal out there. They see the names of the players up there, and they can hope their name might be there some day, too.”
There were all sorts of Hallie Hortons in the gallery watching the final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. That, of course, was the point when Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced the creation of the event a year ago. Yes, giving today’s top women’s amateurs an opportunity to compete at the famed course was all fine and good, but that was a means to an end. Like other initiatives Augusta National has gotten involved in in recent years—Drive, Chip and Putt, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin America Amateur—the real purpose of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is to inspire young girls to play golf and, in turn, help grow the game.
The thing of it was, however, the final round turned out to be more than just a day for little girls to dream big.
“I so badly wanted to be here, to see this in person,” said Nancy Akers, a 51-year-old who lives outside Greensboro, N.C., and was in attendance with her husband, Albert. “It’s something I’m not really sure I would have ever thought would have happened.”
Akers was on the first tee to watch World Golf Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa kick off the day with a ceremonial opening shot reminiscent of the one that begins the opening round of the Masters. “To think we’d see this … it’s just fantastic.”
The appeal of watching female golfers compete at Augusta National for the first time attracted a foursome of women from Rutland (Vt.) Country Club. The group flew to Charleston, S.C., where they picked up a car owned by one of their daughters and drove to Augusta to take in the moment.
All around the hallowed grounds, you saw the excited faces of fans soaking it all up. The galleries were large—it’s believed the club anticipated crowds about two-thirds the size of a typical Masters, and that felt about right. And though it took them a while to get comfortable—the fans watching play on the front nine were surprisingly quiet, as if they weren’t entirely sure how they should comport themselves in the event’s debut—things got loud on the back nine. When Jennifer Kupcho, the eventual winner, holed her eagle putt on the par-5 13th, it echoed just like the roars that have been heard over countless Masters of old.
The competition that fans saw was a bit nervy at times, but impressive all the same. Kupcho, a 21-year-old senior at Wake Forest, went five under over her last six holes to overcome a two-stroke deficit and win by four. It was a finish that would quickly become Masters folklore if it were to repeat itself next week.
“I really think we’re going to start something great in women’s golf,” Kupcho said afterward, aware of the legacy that she and the other 71 players in the field this week are leaving. “It’s been an experience of a lifetime and I’m glad I have it.”
It’s likely the powers that be at Augusta National would have labeled the inaugural ANWA a success under almost any circumstance. Still, Ridley sounded genuinely impressed with what had unfolded this past week.
“When it’s on a piece of paper, you have facts and figures and you have expectations created it’s kind of on that level,” Ridley said after the players' practice round at Augusta on Friday. “But when you add the human element to it and the emotions and you see the expressions on the faces. … Seeing the smiles on the faces and the joy, I guess that’s the right word, you can’t really put on a piece of paper.”
Will Hallie Horton remember that Kupcho was the first-ever champion of the event? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely that she’ll recall that she had a great time watching. And that’s might be the most important victory.